... and I will pay

Lisbon Travel Blog

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The campsite

"Come on guys, it's my birthday and it's time to eat…" I yelled full of courage. Because my birthday is in the heart of summer, I usually celebrate it abroad. Not out of extravagance but simply because most times I'm on vacation. We were touring the west and south coast of Europe. It was an interrail trip. With an open ticket you can get on and off every train, whenever and wherever you like. For the expenses while traveling, I'd taken on an extra job. But you know how it goes, in the months before our vacation I had numerous kinds of important priorities like smoking, drinking and dancing the night away. Well, I was 19 and had hardly any cash. So, with a backpack and two friends I went out in to the world. (Well, Europe at least.) Life was smiling at us and because it was the hottest summer in years, happiness pored out of every pore of our body.

Happy campers
During the day it was sand, sun, sea and culture. At night in front of the tent, we cooked an 'all-in-one-pan' meal with some locale ingredients on our little one pit gas burner. That was about it. We really didn't need much more. But hey, it was my birthday and before I knew it, it was out of my mouth: "…and I will pay".

 

The trip (and the train) took us in a short period of time trough Belgium, France and Spain and now we camped somewhere up in the hills in Portugal. It was my twentieth birthday and there was something magical to that fact. For years and years (half of my life), I had been a teenager and now I was going to be 'a twenty'. A year from now I would officially be grownup.

Me and my friend. I'm the tall one. Picture is a bit blurred, but I took it before the digital ages.
At least, that is what I thought in all my youthful innocence. Anyhow, something magical and I guess that's why I got a little carried away.

 

On a rusty, rattling bus, which in The Netherlands would've been taken out off service about 15 years earlier, we rumbled down the mountain towards the capital Lisbon, 'Lisboa' as the Portuguese would say. On the bus it was scorching hot. The little cloths we had on were drenched and stuck to our bodies like glue. Once arrived in the capital, we strolled through streets and alleys looking for a nice place to eat. At every little restaurant we glanced at the menu and looked inside. Obviously, we were in the touristy part of the town.

The menus, the waiters, the loud music, it all was the same. Outside there were ramshackle tables with even shakier chairs. Inside, a sea of red and white blocked paper tablecloth with smudgy stains and holes from previous eaters. Okay, this wasn't it. Because it was my birthday I wanted something special and therefore we walked on, out of the narrow streets on to the boulevard. I think that’s where it came over me. I was in awe with the beauty, the atmosphere. Palm trees, fountains, gorgeous monuments and uncommonly friendly people. Due to its coastal location, a soft summer breeze blew faintly, spreading some ease. Life was good! We watched the sun set behind the last few surfers. We enjoyed the many love stricken couples walking hand in hand and we made funny pictures of each other. I hadn't had a drop to drink, but I felt bubbles in my brain and tingling in my nerve ends. I was drunk with all the impressions. Suddenly I spotted it. Right there on the corner of the yacht harbor.

 

A beautiful, raw stone masonry build restaurant, in perfect harmony with my taste for that evening. Magnificent heavy oak door with next to it a chestnut menu standard with copper light fitting to illuminate the sensational dishes they had on the menu. A quick glance inside learned me they had white linen on the table. The only restaurant in town, in all of Portugal, so it seemed that had that. Once inside, it was even more luxurious than it had appeared from the outside. We were welcomed graciously and with (in this kind of restaurants required) courtesy. We got a round table in the middle of the restaurant. The linen turned out to be damask. There were three rows of shiny polished silver cutlery. Various sized glasses stood awaiting our fine choice of wines. A (especially for a Portuguese) tall man in a black suit with silk stripe on his pants, appeared at our table and warmly welcomed us. He was obviously the Maitre. Apparently, this was his spot, because he never left our table anymore. From here, he could overlook the entire restaurant and give instructions to his staff. His brigade consisted of numerous little, fast, shish and above all, highly competent men. It was a restaurant with classic customs. The chair of the girl in our midst was drawn op, an aperitif was taken and the menus brought. The maitre kept an eye on everything. He thought of your needs before you could even consider you wanted something. As soon as he perceived even the littlest hint of a wish, he snapped his fingers and out of every nook and cranny came stewards rushing to our table. One took care of the ashtray, another brought the aperitif, a third delivered the bread and number four poured the water. Hmmm, probably an expensive restaurant. But I couldn't care less; I was only going to be twenty once.

 

By the ambiance and the snapping of the maitre's fingers, I felt happy as a king. I was granted every wish I might have. It was for that reason, as well as my giddy youthfulness, that I got completely carried away. Sure, there were prices on the menu, but they were in Escudos. I didn't feel like working out the exchange rate. We were on vacation, it was my birthday, so let's not nag. "You can have whatever you like", I told my fellow-guests. We chose an entrée, an intermediate course and a main course. Not just any dish, oh no, very special and exquisite meals. I remember the enormous, juicy chateaubriand that was brown and crispy on the outside, but -as it should- warm and bloody red inside. It was flambéed and cut at the table. My goodness, that was delicious! When it was time for desert, I pulled a trick that I learned from my parents. I excused myself, said I needed to go to the bathroom and left the table. Somewhere near the kitchen, I discretely signaled the maitre. As I suspected, he immediately rushed over. I explained to him it was my birthday and that I wanted something special for desert, preferably ice cake. "ice cake, joo no, ais caighk", I said while making round gestures with my hands. His English (interlarded with Portuguese words) was probably even worse than mine was. "Bursdaij? Aah, Aniversário, yes, ju wand caik wit sjempainais?", he asked. Wow, a Champaign ice cake! That man knew exactly what I wanted! I could almost taste it already. After he congratulated me, he promised me everything was going to be all right.

 

Back at the table, I acted in holy innocence. My fellow-guests and travelers suspected nothing. It would be a wonderful surprise, I thought jadishly. When the desert arrived, no one was more surprised than I was. One of the little men appeared with a huge silver platter above his head. On it was a bright orange bombe topped with fireworks. Okay, that I expected. But an other man came and brought a Champaign cooler with ice cubes, complete with bottle! I was shocked. I didn't order that! Immediately the calculator in my head started working. If you've ever had a bottle of Champaign in a restaurant, you know how expensive that is. In those days, it wasn't uncommon for a Dutch restaurant of this standard to charge fl. 225,= per bottle. Disbelief, angst, angriness, sorrow, I experienced all emotions within seconds. That swindler, that crook! He had taken advantage of my poor English and, with his false Portuguese charm, tricked me in to Champaign. Sjempainais my ass! I didn't think the food was going to be cheap, but at this point I saw my entire three week vacation budget evaporate. In my head I saw my two friends traveling through Europe, while I had to go back home the next morning. It is a good thing my train ticket is already paid for, I thought. All of a sudden, I understood why that fake waiter never left our table. It must have been his plan from the start. The bastard hadn't trusted us three youngsters from the beginning, of course. He hadn't lost us out of his sight because he wanted to make sure, we didn't suddenly leave. He pampered us with hospitality, drinks, food and even real Champaign, just so he could play a trick on us, to ban us to the dishwashing for at least four months.

 

Nevertheless, the cake had arrived and the bottle was opened before I could have protested. Besides, I would have been utterly embarrassed if I'd send the bottle back. Neither to my friends, nor to the waiters, let alone to the maitre, I showed my fear. It was a petty of my vacation, but I was going to drink that Champaign. The three of us toasted to me, my birthday, to the good life. You know how it goes. "Would you like some coffee or tea, or would you like to go", I asked over-boldly while hoping for the latter, you understand. Very wisely, my friends decided they'd had enough. With flair and a look that said 'you're not getting the best of me', I asked The Maitre for the bill. Swiftly, yet faster than anything else earlier that evening, he placed the check discretely folded in front of me. On the saucer lie some mints. In misery, I ate those myself. With clammy hands I took the bill from the saucer. I swear to you, from the corner of my eye, I saw the maitre rub his hands gloatingly. Carefully, I lifted the top half of the paper. The paper felt nice and soft between my fingers. As nonchalant as possible, I glanced at the bottom line. What I then saw, I still can't believe. That was impossible! The latter half of the evening, I had been doing the math. I calculated, added and added. The Escudo versus the guilder, loss on the exchange rate included. I did the math again. But the number added up to the same result. When converted, I had to pay ninety guilders. That's about € 40 or $ 55 or £ 27. I was astounded. Quickly, I put the money on the saucer, leaving a generous tip. I hasty ushered my friends outside. In my head, I went over the bill again. The aperitifs, the wines, all twelve (!) courses, the cake AND the bottle of Champaign, really everything had been on there. Very seldom, I have been as relieved as I was then. And happy, because I still had enough money for the rest of my vacation. So happy in fact, that I s we take a taxi back to the campsite. And then, in a state of utter ecstasy, I heard myself say: "…and I will pay".
TravellinChic says:
I love portugal too. Lisboa and fado :)
Posted on: Aug 15, 2012
TravellinChic says:
Wow, that's a pleasant surprise :) Good for you! :) It was the opposite for my spanish friend who proposed we go to a spanish restaurant in london, La tasca. We ordered several tapas and the bill later shocked him so much he was beyond belief. We divided the bill and I'm not surprised as I had dined there before but our poor spanish friend was and it was kind of funny bec he recommended the place :P
Posted on: Aug 15, 2012
Sweetski says:
hi. Sorry it took so long for me to respond, but I've been away from TB for a couple of months. I'm glad to hear I made you laugh. In hindsight the whole situation made me laugh too, hence me blogging about it. But at the time I was scared sh*tless :D
Posted on: Apr 21, 2012
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The campsite
The campsite
Happy campers
Happy campers
Me and my friend. Im the tall one…
Me and my friend. I'm the tall on…
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